The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #54

Q. Did Mormon leaders ever use the term 'Nigger' to describe black folks?

A. Unfortunately yes; on a few occasions. Brigham Young used it in reference to "Nigger Dances" where LDS youth would jump and skip instead of dancing more formally. John Taylor (3rd President) used it once. Heber C. Kimball (1st Counselor to Brigham Young) used it several times. Heber J. Grant (7th President of the Church) once used it in recounting a joke he once heard. Joseph F. Smith (6th President) used it in reference to a black man who killed the Salt Lake County Sheriff; who was also a personal friend of his. But all of these Brethren used the more respectful term (at that time) of "Negro" in the vast great majority of cases. Also, one must remember that these men (except for Joseph F. Smith) were not raised in the Church, but were raised among white Protestants who frequently used the term "Nigger"to describe blacks. One must also remember that in the early 1800s (when Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor and others were children or young men) the term "Nigger"simply meant "Black"and was not the derogatory term it is today. In the 1800s blacks in New England (from whence these men were born and raised) were often called "Nigger Joe" (if their name was Joseph) or "Nigger Sam" (if their name was Samuel) and these were not considered offensive either by the whites or the blacks. It simply meant "Black Joe"or"Black Sam" etc.

In like manner, those few Native Americans who lived among white New Englanders were called "Injun Joe" or "Injun Sam" or what have you. It wasn't considered disrespectful then. It would be considered very offensive in our day. The term "Nigger" simply was an Old English term for "Black" and did not become such a derogatory word until the latter part of the 19th century. As young Protestants growing up in New England (as these early Mormon leaders did) in the early 19th century the term "Nigger" was as offensive as "Black guy" or "Black dude"is for us today (i.e. it wasn't a term of respect but was not actually derogatory either).

One must further accept that fact that Presidents and Apostles of the LDS Church are children of their day. They usually accept the "wisdom" of the day! In Brigham Young's day, most Americans and Europeans believed that the Moon was inhabited. So did Mormons. Most white Americans and Europeans believed that "Negroes" were naturally inferior to whites. So did most Mormons; including most Mormon leaders. The Prophet Joseph Smith did not, but the evidence is clear most of his followers did. The Prophets of Israel probably believed the Earth was flat, and that the Sun and Moon passed below the Earth every night. Many of the prophets of Israel were simple, uneducated men. There is no evidence they knew all the truths and facts we know today. They certainly were not omniscient (all-knowing) as God is! Brigham Young and the others were children of their times, and there is no reason why they should have been anything else.

Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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